< Like a Movie


Saturday, September 22, 2001

Like a Movie

September 22, 2001

BOB GARFIELD: The tragedy at the World Trade Center was an international event not least because of television. Certainly never have so many people seen so much violence in so close to real time. Where did we find a common vocabulary to describe what we saw? We heard the answer again and again from the witnesses who fled the smoke and the debris: Hollywood. It was like a movie they said.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Talk to me about what it was like -- were you able to get out - was it-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]

MAN: Well it was, it was like it was a, a World War II war movie. I mean there was just debris everywhere.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:Or like a horror movie, a science fiction movie, a disaster movie. We've enjoyed so many images from the anonymous darkness of a theater, we never imagined, not for a second, that they would burst through into the light of a late summer morning. [SOUNDS OF DESTRUCTION]

BROOKE GLADSTONE: When you saw Independence Day--

MAN: Right.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- when the White House blew up--

MAN: Right.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- did your audience cheer?

MAN: Yeah. Yeah, it was like whoa!!!

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Tim Gray [sp?] is a columnist for Variety.

MAN:I mean up until a week ago you would see a big building exploding and think cool, dude! Wow! Terrorist's role was cartoon creatures that were just there to be eventually foiled by the heroes, and whenever the terrorists created their mayhem, it was always a room full of anonymous people who got blown up. None of the heroes ever got even maimed by the terrorists.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:If you log on to the Internet Movie Data Base you can type in the word "terrorist" under "plot" and come up with 270 matches -- most in the last 15 years or so. Take the Die Hard series, inaugurated in 1988. [MOVIE MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

ALAN RICKMAN AS VILLAIN IN DIE HARD:Due to the Nakatomi [sp?] Corporation's legacy of greed around the globe they're about to be taught a lesson in the real use of power. [PAUSE] You will be witnesses. [DRAMATIC CHORD] [SOUNDS OF MAYHEM]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:In the first Die Hard, terrorists take over the office tower of a multinational corporation. In the second, they hijack an airliner. In the third, they try to take down New York City and they perish in a blaze of digital effects. Tim Gray.

TIM GRAY:I, I can't imagine anybody watching a movie now filled with pyrotechnics with the same kind of innocence we had before, you know? Every country in Europe went through World War II where they, they went through horrible experiences -- where entire towns were bombed and destroyed, and America hasn't been under fire in World War I or World War II, and suddenly we're under fire here.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:European cinema is not known for dazzlingly-rendered explosions. The violence tends to be more intimate. American movie mayhem is popular there partly because, Gray suggests, we set most of our destruction here. They can savor it and shrug it off just as we do. It also may be that Europeans, living in a continent that has seen so much war, were better able than us to comprehend what unfolded Tuesday on television. Novelist Ian McKuen [sp?] watched from London.

IAN McKUEN:Nothing Hollywood ever dreamed up prepared us for a minute for, for any of this, because we know the difference. We're not stupid. Even before the towers crumbled and we were simply watching through telephoto lens we knew, we could imagine the hell inside as people ran for their lives, that we knew the elevators would not be working, we knew the pandemonium that must be going on in these stairwells with people trying to get down.

Also there are no heroes. Not at that stage. There are only victims. And that's unlike Hollywood. Those Hollywood dramas seem piffling alongside this.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:During the Depression what Americans wanted from Hollywood was musicals and screwball comedies. In the '40s we wanted movies about the war. In the '50s, confronting nuclear holocaust, we needed horrific giant ants and body snatchers to exorcise our fears.

But when the Vietnam War was being waged we did not want to see it on the big screen, maybe because we saw enough of the real thing on television.

Who knows what we want now? A call to a video store on the upper east side yielded an ambiguous answer. The manager said romantic comedies were flying out of the place. No disaster films, he said, except one. The Siege. The one disaster movie with a message.

MAN:What if what they really want -- what if they don't even want the Sheik?! Have you considered that?! Huh?! What if what they really want is for us to heard children into stadiums like we're doing and put soldiers on the street and, and have Americans looking over their shoulders, bend the law, shred the Constitution just a little bit?! Because if we torture him, General, we do that -- and everything that we have bled and fought and died for is over! And they've won!

BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now Hollywood is scrambling to re-schedule, putting off the debut of a couple of TV series; eliminating re-broadcasts of boom-boom movies like Independence Day and postponing some theatrical releases including a comedy with Tim Allen called Big Trouble about a suitcase bomb that winds up on a plane.

It also has shelved for now the new Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, Collateral Damage, about one man who loses his family and takes on a terrorist singlehandedly. The tag line for the movie trailer said: This Fall the war hits home. [MUSIC]